FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23 | Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 | 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 | Luke 6:27-38
Our readings for this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us that if we want to be Christians, we must learn to do good to those who have done us harm and to pray for our enemies. They challenge us to work for universal brotherhood despite the painful experiences that we must face.
Benito, an eremite, regularly meditates on the bank of the Manguao Lake, northern Palawan. One morning, finishing his prayers, he saw an Asian Black Forest Scorpion floating helplessly in the waters. As the scorpion was pulled closer, it got caught in roots that branched out far into the lake. The scorpion struggled frantically to free itself but got more and more entangled. He immediately reached out to the drowning scorpion, which, as soon as he touched it, stung him. The hermit withdrew his hand but, having regained his balance, once again tried to save the creature. Every time he tried, however, the scorpion’s tail stung him so badly that his hands became bloody and his face distorted with pain. A passerby who saw the holy man Benito struggling with the scorpion shouted, “What’s wrong with you, fool! Do you want to kill yourself to save that ugly thing?” Looking into the stranger’s eyes, he answered, “Because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting, why should I deny my own human nature to save it?”
One can be angry at a person for what they do, and yet still be positive and want what is best for them. In the first book of Samuel, David is a fugitive from Saul’s revenge. Twice David had the opportunity to secretly kill Saul but, despite the encouragement of his men, he refuses to harm the Lord's anointed, for the king’s life is sacred. Instead, he conversed with the king, who confessed he had wronged David. Saul called himself a fool for opposing David. David could have exacted revenge on Saul. The opportunity was there. But he recognized something more important, something sacred, was at stake, and chose another logic. Being positive and wanting what is best for your enemies call on something in them that makes their hatred for you decrease and their respect for you increase. We are challenged everyday to demonstrate being positive and wanting the best for others. Do you struggle to love those you disagree with politically? There is probably someone in your life, whether a relative on Facebook or a person you’ve never actually met on Twitter, who makes you think less than charitable thoughts. Politics presents us with a great opportunity for loving our neighbor. Just because it is the nature of some people to sting like a scorpion, doesn't mean we would deny own human nature to demonstrate being positive and wanting the best for them. We cannot become so wrapped up in a particular party’s ideology that we are unable to love people who disagree with us. It is not wrong to identify with a particular party, but we must know that ultimately, our identity is in Christ. When engaging in politics, we should seek to please God, not our party’s ideas of how we should vote. We can begin by listening to each other, and we can try to learn about those we perceive as our opponents. We can lead with grace instead of leading with the quick burn. We can create space for respectful dialogue. And we can take pride in knowing that these small acts can add up to something much greater. Finally, we honor God by choosing "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).
A man was seen one day going in a boat on a river with a large dog, which he wished to get rid of by drowning. He succeeded in throwing the unwanted animal into the water, but the dog kept trying to get back into the boat. As the man was attempting to beat the dog from the boat, he fell overboard. Witnesses say that the man would have himself drowned if the dog had not seized him by his coat and brought him to shore. When someone tries to do you harm, do them good in return. Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul teaches that as we bear the image of Adam, so we will bear the divine image of Jesus, the heavenly Adam. Loving our enemies is so foreign and backwards to the way our flesh operates. We want to be generous, forgiving, and compassionate enough to love people unconditionally. But no matter how hard we try, somehow we fall short. Our Adam-ness gets in the way of being positive towards others. Our humanness gets in the way of wanting what is best for others. Only by divine help can we develop an attitude of love for our enemies. Only with God's grace can we become positive and want what is best for others. Khalil Gibran, one of the twentieth century's most inspirational poets and authors wrote, "The great man has two hearts - one bleeds, the other endures." Let us ask our Lord to give us hearts that are able to bleed by feeling the pain and compassion for others and hearts that are able to endure by being patient, forgiving, and allowing the one we love to learn and grow. Let us pray for the grace to always be positive and want what is best for others.
A woman went to visit a young prisoner for ten years. She taught him to read and write. When he got out of prison, she helped him find a job and a place in society. When he was on the right track, she withdrew from his life. But before she left, the prisoner asked her why she had done all that for him. She replied: “Do you remember the man you killed to have a little money to buy your drugs? I am his mother. If I did all this for you, it is to prevent you from doing what you did with my son again when you got out of jail. I did it to prevent another mother from suffering the same pain that I endured.”
There is a popular adage among the Zealots in the first century Judea that says “Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy”. This was their battle cry to incite the people of Judea province to rebel against Roman occupation. Robert Frost, the greatest American poet of the twentieth century, also wrote, “You've got to love what's lovable, and hate what's hateable." An enemy is somebody who hates us and seeks to harm us or cause us trouble. An enemy can be someone who has cheated or wronged us or somebody who are against values or beliefs that we stand for. And the most natural thing to do is to hate them back. For many Catholic Christians including myself, one of the most shocking and difficult passages in the Gospel is the Lord's commandment to love our enemies. Jesus challenges us to go beyond a merely human code in dealing with unlovable people. It seems strange, even unnatural to love an enemy. Nonetheless, His command is unambiguously clear: we are to love even those whom we do not want to love. In our Gospel, Jesus challenges us to be merciful as the Father is merciful: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, turn the other cheek, give to everyone who asks you, do to others as you would have them do unto you, don’t judge others, forgive others, be generous. Is Jesus advocating passivity in the face of all manner of mistreatment? Is he telling us that's it's okay to let people walk all over us now since we will receive our reward later in Heaven? Understand what loving our enemies does not mean. Luke 6:27 says, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς (agapate tous echthros, love your enemies). ἀγάπη (agape) is the word most often used to describe Christian love. It is the kind of love that puts the best interest of others first and sacrifices pride, self interest and possessions for their sake. This is the love that God has for us which inspired him to sacrifice His son and for His son to obey and sacrifice himself. Loving our enemies doesn’t mean we support our enemies in what they do, or agree with them, or even necessarily become good friends with them. Loving our enemies means that when they hate us, we love them in return. Dare we love the difficult people in our lives? Dare we forgive parents, children, neighbors, politicians, spouses, co-workers, once-trusted clergy who have offended us, wounded us, betrayed us, even abused us or those we love? Dare we try to understand those with whom we disagree politically, or have a different sexual orientation, or who are enslaved by misinformation and disinformation? The cycle of hate, revenge, and retaliation must stop with us. One can be angry at a person for what they do, and yet still love them. In short, loving our enemies is being positive and wanting what is best for the other person. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum